August Newsletter Presbyterians
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Our name describes us well. The EPC is both evangelical and Presbyterian. We are evangelical in our zeal for the gospel, as well as evangelism, missions, and living obediently as followers of Jesus. At the same time, we are rooted deeply in the Protestant Reformation and especially the theological and pastoral work of John Calvin. We embrace the Westminster Confession of Faith as our doctrinal standard, and the rule of spiritually mature elders linked together regionally as the best way to guide local congregations.
When the EPC started in 1981, we determined that we would not disagree on the basic essentials of the Christian faith, but on anything that was not essential—such as the issue of ordaining women as officers or practicing charismatic gifts—we would give each other liberty. Above all, we committed ourselves to loving each other and not engaging in quarrels and strife. The result is that when we get together in our regional and national meetings, we spend most of our time in worship and fellowship and almost none in arguing with each other.
The EPC consists of more than 600 churches with approximately 145,000 members. We have a world missions program with a priority on sending missionaries to unreached people groups. We are eager to plant churches across the United States and especially in urban communities and college towns. Our desire is that every one of our congregations will be an outpost of the Kingdom, with every member viewing himself or herself as a missionary on a mission.
The EPC exists to carry out the Great Commission of Jesus as a denomination of Presbyterian, Reformed, Evangelical, and Missional congregations.
To the glory of God, the EPC family aspires to embody and proclaim Jesus’ love as a global movement of congregations engaged together in God’s mission through transformation, multiplication, and effective biblical leadership.
The Constitution of the EPC consists of the Westminster Confession of Faith (including the Larger and Shorter Catechisms), the “Essentials of our Faith,” and the Book of Order (comprised of The Book of Government, The Book of Discipline, and The Book of Worship). Of these, we have one confessional standard: the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. All these documents are subordinate to Scripture, which is “the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks.”From the beginning, we have been a movement of congregations that takes seriously the Bible, the theology of the historic confessions of the faith, and the evangelical fervor of the founders of American Presbyterianism. We envision our local churches to be evangelical and Presbyterian; hence our name. We affirm that the Bible is God’s inspired and infallible Word, and that it contains eternal truth that speaks with authority to our life, doctrine, and mission (2 Timothy 3:16). To ensure that the ideals of faith are easily understood but remain foundational, our core belief is contained in a concise list of essentials. We are Reformed in our understanding of the Bible, which means we aim to be confessional.
The local church is the primary building block in the EPC. We believe ministry and mission begins with the local church. As Presbyterians, our churches intentionally connect and engage together on a regional basis. We believe that we can better fulfill the mission of God by supporting, helping, and being accountable to each other. Finally, we are committed to an overarching authority called the General Assembly that meets annually and assigns responsibilities to committees, ministries, and dedicated staff to serve the needs of the local church. The ongoing work of the EPC is carried out by the Office of the General Assembly and staff of each ministry.
OUR ANNUAL MEETING
The General Assembly is our annual June event where EPC leaders—Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders—and guests gather to worship, get refreshed and equipped, connect with each other, and decide on actions and issues for the whole EPC. Our 2020 General Assembly will be held at Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordiva (suburban Memphis), Tennessee. The ongoing work of the General Assembly is overseen by Permanent Committees and carried out by the Office of the General Assembly and staff of each ministry.
For further insight and information on the EPC, go to their central website at:
Presbyterian church government originated in Scotland in the wake of the Reformation. Three general forms of church polity (civil government) came to the forefront, as the Protestant Church separated from the Roman Church; the first, Episcopacy, was comprised of Bishops, who are generally appointed by either a governing representative body of the church general (a synod); at times answerable to the civil magistrate, the second, Independency, was a congregational led form of church polity that functioned as a democracy, and third, a Presbytery, which was a representative form of church government, wherein the congregation elects representatives from the membership to govern the church on their behalf.
In the Presbyterian Church, elders are members of the local church that have met the biblical requirements for elders, as listed in Titus and I Timothy. They are nominated by a committee appointed by the local church session (board of elders). Then, they are presented before a called meeting of the church membership for election. Elected elders then form a session The session serves as a representative board for the congregation in matters of church order, conduct, discipline, and oversight. They are servants of the Lord and of the body of Christ, who are to humbly care for Christ's elect, as Peter directs:
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 1 Pt. 5.2ff
Good Shepherd EPC of Ajo, Arizona
Good Shepherd EPC has been in a member of the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) for around five years. She separated from the PCUSA a few years ago, due to untenable immoral decisions by the denomination. As a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Good Shepherd belongs to a denomination governed by representative bodies.
First, there is the General Assembly, a representative body of all member churches of a Presbyterian denomination. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church General Assembly gathers yearly in various parts of the nation to address central matters of doctrine and church order for the denomination as a whole.
Within the General Assembly (GA) there are Presbyters; these are smaller representative bodies divided by geographical region representing the member churches in that region. They are established to tend tend to general matters of discipline,ordination, and governance.
Good Shepherd geographically falls within the oversight of the EPC Presbytery of the West. The Presbytery of the West meets three times annually throughout the geographical boundaries of its member churches.
Summarily, Good Shepherd EPC is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, broadly governed in matters of doctrine and order by its General Assembly, further administered to by the regional Presbytery of the West, locally tended to by a ruling board called a session, which is made up of congregationally elected ruling elders and ordained teaching elders.
The teaching elder is that elder called to handle the word of God, administer the sacraments, and moderate session and church meetings. The teaching elder is entrusted with the preaching and teaching of God's word. He is a member not of the local church, but of the regional Presbytery; the teaching elder is called by the local church and ordained by the regional presbytery. Ruling elders are lay members of the congregation that are elected to serve with the teaching elder on the local session. Ruling elders serve for predetermined terms, as the teaching elder serves for the length of his call.
The session of Good Shepherd EPC is composed of one teaching elder and four ruling elders. Pastor Hartley is the teaching elder of Good Shepherd EPC, Jason Manuel, Marie Ross, Susan Gilbert, and Joshua Manuel, are the current ruling elders of Good Shepherd's local session.
Good Shepherd is currently seeking to increase its visible membership. Membership allows those that attend Good Shepherd the opportunity to show themselves visibly united to the church, to have a voice in the oversight of the local church, and to serve the Lord and His church as members of the local session. Those that attend Good Shepherd are asked to prayerfully consider joining with us in membership at Good Shepherd.
In 1 Peter 3: 1, Paul wrote, This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
Basically there are three types of church government, the episcopal, the presbyterian, and the congregational, each of which takes on features from the others. Episcopalianism, for example, finds a large place for presbyters in its synods and elsewhere, and its congregations have many functions of their own. Presbyterian congregations also play a large part, while the appearance of moderators attests a movement toward episcopal supervision. The very existence of such groupings as Congregational and Baptist Unions with their presidents shows that churches with a basically congregational polity are yet alive to the value of other elements in the Christian tradition. Yet the general categories do apply.
In this system the chief ministers of the church are bishops. Other ministers are presbyters (or priests) and deacons. All these are mentioned in the NT, although there bishops and presbyters seem to be identical. Those who see an episcopal system in the NT point to the function of the apostles, which some think was passed on to bishops whom the apostles ordained. They see as important the position of James of Jerusalem, which is not unlike that of the later bishop. The functions of Timothy and Titus as revealed in the Pastoral Epistles show these men to have been something of a transition between the apostles and the bishops of later times. The apostles are said to have practiced ordination by the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14), and they appointed elders in the churches they founded (Acts 14:23), presumably with the laying on of hands. On this view the apostles were the supreme ministers in the early church, and they took care that suitable men were ordained to the ministry. To some of them they entrusted the power to ordain and so provided for the continuance of the ministry in succeeding generations.
It is further alleged that the organization of the church subsequent to NT days supports this view. In the time of Ignatius the threefold ministry was clearly in existence in Asia Minor. By the end of the second century it is attested for Gaul and Africa by the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian. Nowhere is there evidence of a violent struggle such as would be natural if a divinely ordained congregationalism or presbyterianism were overthrown. The same threefold ministry is seen as universal throughout the early church as soon as there is sufficient evidence to show us the nature of the ministry. The conclusion is drawn that episcopacy is the primitive and rightful form of church government.
But there are objections. There is no evidence that bishops differed from presbyters in NT days. It is going too far to say that all the ministry of these times was of apostolic origin. There were churches not of apostolic foundation, like that in Colossae, which do not seem to have lacked a ministry. Again, some of the early church orders, including the Didache, are congregational in outlook. The case is far from proven.
Nevertheless, episcopacy is undoubtedly early and practically universal. In time divisions appeared, notably the great schism in 1054 when the Orthodox Church in the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West separated. Both continue to be episcopal and hold to the doctrine of apostolic succession. But there are differences. The Orthodox Church is a federation of self governing churches, each with its own patriarch. The Roman Catholic church is more centralized, and its bishops are appointed by the pope. There are doctrinal differences, such as different views of the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed.
At the Reformation there were further separations. The Church of England rejected Roman supremacy but retained the historic episcopate. Some of the Lutheran churches opted for an episcopal system but did not remain in the historic succession. In more recent times other churches have decided to have bishops, e., some Methodist churches, and these too have rejected the historic succession. There have been other divisions, such as the separation of the Old Catholics when the dogma of papal infallibility was proclaimed. More Christians accept episcopacy than any other form of church government, but episcopal churches are for the most part not in communion with one another.
This system emphasizes the importance of elders, or presbyters. Its adherents do not usually hold that this polity is the only one in the NT. At the Reformation the Presbyterian leaders thought that they were restoring the original form of church government, but this would not be vigorously defended by many Presbyterians today. It is recognized that there has been much development, but it is held that this took place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that in any case the essentials of the presbyterian system are scriptural. It is beyond question that in the NT presbyters occupy an important place. They are identical with the bishops and form the principal local ministry. In each place there appears to have been a group of presbyters who formed a kind of college or committee which was in charge of local church affairs. That is the natural conclusion to which exhortations like Heb. 13:17 and 1 Thess. 5:12 - 13 point. From the account of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 we see that the presbyters occupied an important place at the very highest levels of the early church.
In the subapostolic age the bishop developed at the expense of the presbyters. This was due to such circumstances as the need for a strong leader in times of persecution and in the controversies against heretics and perhaps also to the prestige attaching to the minister who regularly conducted the service of Holy Communion.
There is much that is convincing in this case. But we must also bear in mind the considerations urged by upholders of the other ways of viewing church government. What is beyond doubt is that from the Reformation onward the presbyterian form of church government has been of very great importance. John Calvin organized the four churches in Geneva on the basis of his understanding of the NT ministry as four fold: the pastor, the doctor (or teacher), the deacon, and the presbyter (or elder). It was the pastor who had the care of the congregation. This was not the full presbyterian system, but it laid the foundation for it, and presbyterianism developed in Switzerland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. On the continent the name "Reformed" is used for these churches.
Another important development in Geneva took place in a congregation of exiles from Queen Mary's England. They met under their elected pastors, John Knox and Christopher Goodman, and developed along presbyterian lines. After the accession of Elizabeth, Knox returned to Scotland, and his work led in time to the full emergence of the Presbyterian Church in that country, from where it spread to northern Ireland. England for a number of reasons did not accept presbyterianism as wholeheartedly as did Scotland, but a presbyterian church emerged there also. From this church Welsh presbyterianism took its origin. From Europe, more particularly from Britain, the church spread to America, where it became one of the most significant groups of Christians. In the great missionary movement of modern times missionaries carried the presbyterian form of the church far and wide, and national presbyterian churches were formed in many parts of the world.
Presbyterian churches are independent of one another, but they have in common that they accept such standards as the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, or the Westminister Confession and that they practice a presbyterial form of church government. The local congregation elects its "session," which governs its affairs. It is led by the minister, the "teaching elder," who is chosen and called by the congregation. He is, however, ordained by the presbytery, which consists of the teaching and ruling elders from a group of congregations over which it exercises jurisdiction. Above it is a General Assembly. In all courts parity between teaching and ruling elders is important. There has been a tendency for smaller bodies of presbyterians to appear among those who are dissatisfied with the laxity (as they see it) in the way some of the larger churches hold to classic presbyterianism.
As the name implies, this puts the emphasis on the place of the congregation. Perhaps it would not be unfair to say that the chief scriptural buttresses of this position are the facts that Christ is the head of his church (Col. 1:18, etc.) and that there is a priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9). It is fundamental to NT teaching that Christ has not left his church. He is the living Lord among his people. Where but two or three are gathered in his name, he is in the midst. Nor is it any less fundamental that the way into the very holiest of all presences is open to the humblest believer (Heb. 10:19 - 20). Other religions of the first century required the interposition of a priestly caste if anyone wished to approach God, but the Christians would have none of this. Christ's priestly work has done away with the necessity for any earthly priest as the mediator of access to God.
Added to this is the emphasis on the local congregation in the NT. There, it is maintained, we see autonomous congregations, not subject to episcopal or presbyterial control. The apostles, it is true, exercise a certain authority, but it is the authority of founders of churches and of the Lord's own apostles. After their death there was no divinely instituted apostolate to take their place. Instead the local congregations were still self governing, as we see from local church orders like the Didache. Appeal is also made to the democratic principle. The NT makes it clear that Christians are all one in Christ and there is no room for any absolute human authority.
Congregationalism as a system appeared after the Reformation. Some among the Reformed decisively rejected the idea of a state church and saw believers as forming a "gathered church," those who have heard the call of Christ and have responded. An Englishman, Robert Browne, published in Holland a famous treatise, "Reformation Without Tarrying for Any" (1582), in which he affirmed the principle of the gathered church, its independence of bishops and magistrates, and its right to ordain its ministers. Denied the freedom to put all this into practice in England, many crossed into Holland. It was from the church at Leiden that the Pilgrims fathers sailed for America in 1620 and established congregationalism in the new world, where it became very important.
Congregationalism is much wider than the church that bears the name. Baptists, for example, usually have congregational polity. They see the local congregation as independent and not subject to any outside authority. So it is with several other denominations. In addition there are Christians who from time to time set up their own congregations with no links with anyone. Congregationalists generally oppose creedal tests. This leads to an admirable toleration. But it also opens up the way to a distortion of NT Christianity, and some congregationalists have passed over into unitarianism. Nevertheless, congregationalism remains a widely held form of Christianity, and it undeniably points to important NT values.
A consideration of all the evidence leaves us with the conclusion that it is impossible to read back any of our modern systems into the apostolic age. If we are determined to shut our eyes to all that conflicts with our own system we may find it there, but scarcely otherwise. It is better to recognize that in the NT church there were elements that were capable of being developed into the episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational systems and which in point of fact have so developed. But while there is no reason that any modern Christian should not hold fast to his particular church polity and rejoice in the values it secures to him, that does not give him license to unchurch others whose reading of the evidence is different.
Our Community Members
Angus has been a member of Good Shepherd EPC since 1998. He has served as a Ruling Elder on the session of Good Shepherd EPC. He is a gentle and kind spirit, who wondrously emanates the love of Christ in his care for our church. You would do well to make his acquaintance and lasting fellowship in Christ.
A Brief Autobiography:
Ruby and I were married in 1950 and in 1951 we became members of the Anglican church in Bashaw. We immediately became very involved in the church; Ruby taught Sunday School and I was involved with the business of the church, being a member of the board etc. All three of our boys we're confirmed and baptized in the church in the early 1980s.
In 1990 we bought property in Ajo and began to set up a home there. In the beginning, we spent very little time wintering there; about 1998 ,we began to spend five months of the winter in Ajo Ruby started going to church; a different one every Sunday, until one Sunday, she came home and said, "I think I have found our church. I like the service I like the minister and the people were so friendly." And the next Sunday, I went with her and the rest is history ;we became very involved. I was elected an elder and I have been involved with setting up our budget for many years. I cannot express the love and friendship that has been extended to us from the congregation at Good Shepherd.
Being involved at Good Shepherd has made my relationship with the heavenly father so very close; I know that finding Good Shepherd was definitely divine guidance, for which I am eternally grateful. I am praying that I will be able to join you this winter again.
In the meantime, may God richly bless you all,
When one thinks of Presbyterians, usually one of two ideas comes to mind. First, there is the idea of church polity. Church polity concerns the government of a church. Presbyterian polity is a representative form of government. Presbyterians form representative governing bodies to tend to matters of doctrine and church order.
The second distinctive of Presbyterian churches concerns their doctrinal distinctives. Historically, Presbyterians, born of the Protestant Reformation, have affirmed the doctrinal distinctives of the Reformed Confessions.
Gritters Barrett writes "A Reformed church has Reformed creeds. For the Protestant Reformed Churches, and for most churches with the name “Reformed,” these creeds are the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of the Synod of Dordt, and the ancient ecumenical creeds. The PRC have recognized that there are other Reformed churches coming out of the Calvinistic Reformation, which have a different history and, because of that different history, embrace different Reformed creeds—the Westminster Confessions or Standards. The PRC has expressed, with a few exceptions or clarifications, that Westminster’s creedal system is a faithful expression of Reformed faith and life"
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church subscribes to the doctrines delineated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, its catechisms, and subordinate documents. The Westminster Confession was the product of the English Reformation, composed by the Long Parliament's Committee of Divines, during the English Civil War (1643 - 1646). Its first adoption came in the midst of the Civil War (1646) by the Scottish Presbyterians. From that time, Presbyterians have affirmed the confessional doctrinal distinctiveness of the Westminster Confession of Faith, either in accordance with the 1646 publication or some later redacted form of it
The EPC adopted the modern English edition of the Confession in 1984. Along with the Confession, the EPC identifies those evangelical distinctives listed in that titled the Essentials of Our Faith, with this addendum:
In Essentials ...................... Unity In Non-Essentials ............. Liberty In All Things ..................... Charity In Essentials ...................... Unity In Non-Essentials ............. Liberty In All Things ..................... Charity
From a Scottish Presbyterian Divine
One of the greatest penmen of the Scottish Reformation was Samuel Rutherford. He was a Scottish Presbyterian Commissioner of the Long Parliament's invitation, instrumental in the composition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. He is best known for his letters to his parishioners penned throughout his ministerial service.
Below is one example of a letter written by Samuel Rutherford. His words seem to be saturated with that same myrrh that once was sprinkled upon the Savior's feet. If after reading one example of his heaven blessed compositions you eagerly desire more, find a catalog of his letters at
To Thomas Corbet from Aberdeen, 1637
Godly counsels Build not your nest here. This world is a hard, ill-made bed; no rest is in it for your soul. Awake, awake, and make haste to seek that Pearl, Christ that this world sees not. Your night and your Master Christ will be upon you within a clap; your hand-breadth of time will not bide you. Take Christ, howbeit a storm follow Him. Howbeit this day be not yours and Christ’s, the morrow will be yours and His. I would not exchange the joy of my bonds and imprisonment for Christ with all the joy of this dirty and foul-skinned world. I am filled with Christ’s love.
I desire your wife to do what I write to you. Let her remember how dear Christ will be to her, when her breath turns cold, and the eye-strings shall break. O how joyful should my soul be, to know that I had brought on a marriage betwixt Christ and that people, few or many. If it be not so, I shall be woe to be a witness against them. Use prayer: love not the world: be humble, and esteem little of yourself. Love your enemies and pray for them. Make conscience of speaking truth, when none knows but God. I never eat but I pray for you all. Pray for me. You and I shall see one another up in our Father’s house. I rejoice to hear that your eye is upon Christ. Follow on, hang on, and quit Him not.
The Lord Jesus be with your spirit.